Jordan: “Yes, I don’t know”

“Where can I get a Blackberry battery?” I asked in the Nokia shop.  The two men working in the shop both pointed and said, “That way.”  They were both pointing in different directions.   It didn’t result in a “jinx” moment where they both looked at each other, laughed and then agreed on a direction.  Nope, they just both

Jordan: "Yes, I don't know."

continued to point in opposite directions as if they were both giving me a legitimate answer. Which, perhaps on higher philosophical plane, would be correct—after all isn’t life of a circle we all spin around?

Alas, there was nothing metaphorical in their response, at least not intentionally.  And really who wants philosophy when its hot and dusty and you need directions?  But Amman can feel very much feel like a vicious circle when you ask questions—and take the answers seriously.  That’s because no one seems to be able to say the simple phrase, “I don’t know.”

Even “Do you have green tea?” got me the response at a café.  “Yes, no.”  It took me several more questions to figure out whether the yes was more correct than the no. The truth was he didn’t know if they had tea at all, which I gathered from the various other “yes, no” responses.

Never saying “I don’t know” seems to be a phenomenon among the 20-somethings of Jordan.  There are questions in Jordan for which they have no answers but these are matters strangers don’t discuss in public—“Is it likely I’ll get a job?” “How will I pay for heating this winter?” “Which one of our neighbors –Iraq, Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria—will be the most unpredictable this week?”   Big questions for which people are afraid of the answers.

But people want to be able to answer something. So maybe that’s why a less earth shattering question like “Do you sell Jason Shampoo?” gets answered “yes” by the cashier and “no” by the clerk in a shop the size of a big living room.  The real answer was no, but that didn’t make the yes man feel bad.  He just shrugged, like he had a 50-50 chance at being right.  “I don’t know” just doesn’t have that definitive power of taking a 50 50 chance of being right, which are about the same odds for a long lasting marriage, all Jordanians take that risk.

After more than an hour and a half of elaborate directions from about 10 people who “yes,” knew where to get a Blackberry battery and then finally running into the Blackberry store by complete accident, you just want to throw some one for a spin by asking, “What do you think are the advantages of the Blackberry over the iPhone?”   If no one knows the answers to the little questions, then dare to ask the big questions.

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One thought on “Jordan: “Yes, I don’t know”

  1. maybe this is related to culture, individuals each have their own personalities, but they get affected by their culture too. attitudes is not only related to what they wanted to answer “yes” only, from my point of view some people need to make themselves feel that they know. i guess each see’s it in a different way even when you travel and compare a place to another there is a clear difference, but hard to to explained.

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